Maggie Ryan Sandford Wins Twin Cities Literary Death Match!

October 27, 2010

Todd Zuniga, Curt Lund, Maggie Ryan Sandford and Mark McGinty

After two hours of booze, short stories, jocular judges and pretty much non-stop laughter, Maggie Ryan Sandford was crowned queen of the Twin Cities Literary Death Match. Hosted by Opium Magazine’s Todd Zuniga and co-hosted by Rob Callahan, the night featured four writers and three judges, a lively crowd and one really powerful wind storm that killed the power in many a-Twin Cities home.

But enough about the weather, all the action was at Clubhouse Jager where two pairs of writers squared off in a head-to-head, 7-minute reading of their latest and greatest prose. My story was actually from a 10-year old screenplay that I condensed into a three-page narrative called Addicted to Yahtzee. More on that later.

Dessa Darling opened the night with a pair of readings, one from her book Spiral Bound, which is available from Doomtree. You can check out some of Dessa’s downloads here. Maggie Ryan Sandford was next and she more-than-entertained the crowd with a pair of stories, one called Dear Mother and the other about half-a-dog, his brain, and his sphincters.

Todd introduces the judges

Then Todd and Rob turned it over to the judges, who critiqued the contestants on three categories. Brian Beatty judged literary merit, and qualified the reading by its nouns, verbs, and his own feelings of petty jealousy. Molly Priesmeyer focused on performance, what the contestant was wearing and how icky some of the reading made her feel. She did enjoy Sandford’s description of the dog’s sphincter-to-sphincter experience.

Joseph Scrimshaw reads a haiku (or sends a text)

Best of all was Joseph Scrimshaw, who appeared to be texting throughout the reading but later revealed that he was using actual words and phrases from the readings to write haikus. Brilliant.

At the end of this round, the judges named Maggie the winner and then the (packed) crowd broke up to refill their drinks, step outside for a smoke, or  socialize with their fellow Death Matchgoers.

Round Two was a faceoff between Curt Lund and me, Mark McGinty. I won the “card toss” and opted to read first (I was pumped and ready to go). After reading my Yahtzee story (a tale of obsession and passion), and then downing half a White Russian to calm my jitters I turned my attention to Curt, who read a story about awkward pubescent love, the conditions and requirements of his first kiss, and a romance involving a Tin Man costume. Funny stuff.

Time for more judging. Brian added the category of metaphor to his noun, verb and petty jealousy parameters. Molly enjoyed the term “backdoor” and the image it conjured,  and Scrimshaw constructed the following haiku, using my own words against me:

Lounge music Mars bar butts

Yahtzee probability

I have no goals in life

Classic. In the end, Curt was chosen winner of Round Two and faced off vs. Maggie in a contest of Poet or Madman? The contestants were shown a photgraph of a person and had to decide if they were looking at a poet or a madman. As example of how challenging this was, check out the following photograph and decide if this is a poet or a madman…

Versifier or psychopath?

A complete Manson, right? It’s actually poet, author and Playboy columnist Shel Silverstein. Yeah, see? I read it for the articles.

After a grueling final round that ended with a tie breaker, Maggie conquered the city, stood victorious and was be-medaled with hardware from Boston’s Literary Death Match (I guess they ran out of Twin Cities medallions). The contest was over but the night continued as contestants retreated to their respective corners for pats on backs, handshakes, smiles, hugs and general ass-kissing. It was great fun.

Be sure to check out Will Dinski’s album with lots of great photos from the event. Videos will be posted soon. It was a great night! Thank you to everyone who came out to support the contestants, the bar, the local literary scene, the city and the common good (yes, Rob, another extremely obscure Blues Brothers reference).

Make sure you go here and check out some awesome pictures Lupi drew of each contestant. As a teaser, check me out….

Dice rules


Mark McGinty, October 2010

P.S. here is the text of my story Addicted to Yahtzee

Addicted to Yahtzee

By Mark McGinty

I’ve been sober now for 11 years, 4 months and 2 days. My drug? Yahtzee, by Milton Bradley. While buying supplies for the first apartment after college, my roommate threw a hand-held, battery-powered travel Yahtzee into the cart. I could easily blame him for my troubles, but I did nothing to stop it.

We played. We played until our fingers ached and our butts pooped dice. Then we played some more.

The problem with Yahtzee hand-held was that only one person could play at a time, and we found ourselves fighting over the game. We needed to get our hands on the real thing, the legendary board game I played as a kid. 5 dice in a plastic brown shaker, paper scorecards…these were my needles.

We became so good at Yahtzee, our senses so acute, that we knew what the dice were going to do before they did it. We became masters of probability. We started seeing patterns in each roll, and thought of names for every possible combination, over 7,000 of them.

A Yahtzee on 1’s  – five dice, five 1’s became Yahtzee Bullets, because the arrangement looked like 5 little bullet holes.

Yahtzee on 3’s was the Candy Bar Yahtzee because when you roll a three, it looks like a little Mars bar.

Yahtzee on 5’s was called Yahtzee Perfect, because it just looked so right.

Yahtzee on 6’s was called, what else? Kentucky Boxcars.

People would say I had no goals in life. But my goal was to score at least 300 points in every game. 

People would ask, “Doesn’t it ever get boring?”

It did. We soon needed a new fix, so we bought the CD-Rom version of Yahtzee. It only intensified our addiction with its instant score calculations, automatic odds and authentic casino lounge music.

It had Triple Yahtzee, which tripled the size of your scorecard. Painted Yahtzee, which added colors to each side of the dice. Not only did you need to match your 5’s, now all of them needed to be blue, or green. Pyramid Yahtzee, which used 4-sided dice instead of the traditional six. This opened a world of possibilities. We went to the local board game store and bought 8-sided dice, changing the rules of play to suit 25,000 more possible outcomes. When we built a tolerance to the 8-sided dice, we moved up to the 12-sided. Once that no longer did the trick, it was the 20-sided monster. Imagine a large straight when your dice have to go from 1 to 20 instead of just 1 to 6.

Our girlfriends dumped us and it made us happy. We found new girlfriends who supported our habit, who took part in it. Who learned the lingo and cherished the laws of mathematics and understood basic Yahtzee probability.

We coached them as they played, and they got better and better. “Keep those fours!” I’d shout. “Always roll for Yahtzee if you have the chance.”

“Never, ever break a full house!!”

There was a place called Banana Brown’s where they played Yahtzee for money. We bought weights to exercise our fingers. Hired caddies to carry our dice. The dark, damp basement of Banana Brown’s was home to an underground Yahtzee club. A Yahtzee monastery and we were its monks. We were raised in a Christian nation but our trinity became the full house, the small straight and the 35-point bonus.

We won $400 our first night, then got jumped in the alley on our way home by the losers. They beat us senseless and took our dice. Luckily they left our fingers unbroken and intact but the warning was loud and clear. We were messing with a world we could not control.

I began to miss work because of the good game, and later lost my job, but we rationalized. My roommate told me, “Yahtzee is more important than your job. Work pays the bills but Yahtzee sets you free.”

“Maybe you guys should quit,” my girlfriend said.

“Why would I need to quit?”

“There are people who can help you,” she said.

“I don’t have a fucking problem!” I knew I could quit anytime I wanted to. But rumor grew of a shadow in the west: the big Yahtzee tournament in Vegas. All the world’s best tossers would be there. Billy Orion the 5-time world champ. Alexander Burlington an old Marine POW who had spent 5 years in a cage in Vietnam. Legend had it he carved 5 dice out of stones and kept himself sane by playing Yahtzee every night.

Top prize was half a million dollars, enough to put me back on top, without having to worry about a job getting in the way of my obsession.

I thought I was bad. The guys at Yahtzee Vegas had shakers made from red velvet, Italian leather, or pure silver decorated with gemstones. And they used terminology that we had never heard. The Tennessee Backdoor Yahtzee, the Fast Food Yahtzee, the hated Illinois Yahtzee and the rare No-Footed Can-Can. A large straight was called The Idiot’s Luggage.

We lost – big time. I detested the way those guys played, how they became excited over the small straight –celebrating an award for incompleteness. It was impure – a dishonest, perverted version of Yahtzee.

I began to hate everything that Yahtzee stood for.

We hit rock bottom in Vegas, but kept playing, and kept losing. Two days later and we’d been kicked out of our hotel rooms with stomachs empty and our pockets depleted. To the alleys we went and soon found ourselves rolling chicken bones into the lid of a metal garbage can. We invented a scoring system around the way the bones landed and played for weeks and weeks.

Then, with his skin pale and his eyes colorless from malnutrition, my roommate collapsed, grasping my hand as he choked on his final breaths. “Promise me,” he said. “You’ll never give up. Keep rolling them bones.” *cough cough*

Suddenly, a spiritual awakening as I realized how sick it all was. My best friend was dying on the street and all he could think about was Yahtzee. I held his hand those final moments as he babbled about what kind of dice they’d have in heaven.

My girlfriend nursed me back to health. She enrolled me in the 12-step program.

Step #1: I admitted I was powerless over Yahtzee and that my life had become unmanageable.

Step #2: I made a list of all the people I had wronged because of Yahtzee and promised myself I’d make amends to all of them.

Then I went around to the local schools and warned the children of the dangers of Yahtzee. I was on my way to recovery, a new person. I knew I could make a difference in the lives of others who struggled. Who had just begun the journey I was about to complete.

That Saturday, my girlfriend returned from a shopping trip. She tossed a plastic shopping bag on my lap. Inside was something flat, rectangular.

“I bought Scrabble!” she announced with an eager little grin.

“We shouldn’t,” I said. “We should be good,” I said.

“Come on, it’ll be fun!”

I guess it couldn’t hurt. “Okay,” I nodded. “Just one game.”

Bitter Boy’s Guide to Love

October 23, 2010

Kyle Field

Chris Lyons

Mechanical Mariner

4 1/2 out of 5 stars

So you just got dumped by your girlfriend of 12 months and now you’re looking ahead to 2-6 months of spirit-raping loneliness? Well, you won’t believe what Kyle Fields and Chris Lyons have in store for you! Bitter Boy’s Guide to Love is your jocular guide to recovery that will put you on the fast track to sanity – as the authors declare on the book’s first page – “no more swimming in vodka’s sleepy waters!”

A follow up to Adventures in Paying Rent, Bitter Boy’s Guide to Love is an activity book filled with the fun and games you enjoyed as a kid – usually during a long road trip or airplane flight. Crossword puzzles, connect the dots, riddles, word puzzles, only instead of tame, G-rated kid stuff, these puzzles are completely R-rated – and hilarious!

Instead of searching for boring words like “apple” or “pumpkin” in the book’s opening word find, you’re tasked with identifying phrases that warn of certain breakup like smothering, need time to think, and needy. The connect-the-dots on the following page turns out appropriately to be a bottle pouring liquid into a cocktail glass – you can use your crayons to color the drink the warming amber of whiskey, or leave it uncolored for vodka or gin! Isn’t this fun?!

There’s a challenging maze, where you must get from Start to Sleep without running into such perils as the bar, the gun store, the pawn shop or your ex’s house!  There’s a Pill Spill, where you must sort through a mess of spilled Xanex, Vicodin and Quaaludes to find (and color) three matching pairs.

I love the Draw Her Tits exercise, where you’re given the outline of a female torso with missing boobies and instructed to draw your ex’s perfect chest (I was fortunate to see that my wife had already completed this exercise).

There’s a great touch-up game simply titled You Look Awful where you’re given a picture of a dejected, down-and-out loser and asked to fix him up by removing the 5 o’clock shadow, giving him a fancy new haircut and slapping a smile on that pathetic never-getting-laid-again face.

Along with these soul-repairing stunts are pages and pages of fun including a Drunk Text game, a word puzzle called Where Did I Go Wrong and a page of riddles called Cheaper Than Therapy. The artwork is crisp, the puzzles are funny and sad at the same time but best of all are the instructions for each puzzle. As one of them says, “As you try fruitlessly to fall asleep, can you pinpoint all the ways you foolishly squandered her affection?” You then find yourself decoding sets of numbers to reveal words like clingy, time hog and too many texts. At the end of the whole thing, there’s a Certificate of Completion, with a perforation so you can detach it and hang it on your wall as a reminder that you are well on your way to recovery, and hopefully (but don’t kid yourself) no longer depressed.

As I was reading through this book, admiring the artwork and laughing at the puzzles I came to realize that this stuff might actually work! These puzzles are so honest and cutthroat that they would actually aid someone going through a tough breakup. They would force you to laugh at your misery, to embrace your pain and find something to enjoy amid those dark hours of loneliness and self-doubt. We’ve all been there, and now, in Bitter Boy’s Guide to Love, Kyle Fields and Chris Lyons have given us comfort. A coping mechanism that is cheaper than therapy.

Reviewed by Mark McGinty, October 2010

Free Cigars at the Twin Cities Book Festival

October 17, 2010

This past Saturday I was an exhibiting author at the 10th Annual Twin Cities Book Festival in downtown Minneapolis. It was pretty cool to see so many authors and publishers together in the same place, surrounded by the hundreds and hundreds of event-goers. There were reading and author signings, panel discussions, lectures, free giveaways (free candy) and dozens of authors.

I had a chance to exhibit Elvis and the Blue Moon Conspiracy and The Cigar Maker, and in an event such as this, when you’re surrounded by your competition, you need a way to stand out, to get people to stop at your table. Since my latest novel deals with the history of the cigar industry in Tampa, Florida, I figured I’d stick a humidor on the table with a sign that says FREE CIGARS (with purchase of the book!)…

It definitely brought people over, but had two very different effects:

1. People would stop, ask about the cigars and the book. Pick it up, flip through it, maybe pickup a flier or a business card. Talk about cigars, Tampa, Cuban history, or books in general. In some cases, they’d buy the book. Sometimes they just wanted to meet you and learn about your work and who you are. That was great too! In general, this group was very friendly and my little marketing trick seemed to have served it’s purpose.

2. People walk right up to the humidor and ask for their free cigar without looking at anything on your table. When you engage them and pitch your book while explaining that the cigar is free with a purchase of the book, they just walk away.

One guy even grabbed two cigars (as he knocked my sign over) and said he was going to give one to his friend. I told him I’d throw in two cigars and that each copy of The Cigar Maker is $15. He tossed the cigars back into the humidor and said, “Then they’re not really free.” Thankfully, he quickly walked away.

Can’t blame the people in group #2 though. The sign did have kind of a “made you look” effect….but then again, these folks seemed like they were not planning on stopping by anyway. Still, if I use cigars as a promotional item again I will probably do it a bit differently. It was the right idea, but I may need to change it up so it doesn’t feel so cheap to some people.

For all your aficionados out there who are wondering what kind of cigars I gave away: they were Flor de Ybor City coronas from Tampa Sweethearts. The tie-in was that much of the book takes place in Ybor City, Florida. The fact that the cigars come from the same city where the book takes place made for a great talking point.

Met a lot of great people and made some new connections, set up a couple things. I’ll be featured on Book Snob in December. And I got the inside scoop on the Minnesota Book Awards.

But overall it was a great day. The Twin Cities Book Festival, courtesy of Rain Taxi, is a worthwhile event and one I will return to. Saw a lot of friends there, met a few people I had only known online, either via Facebook or some other outlet. After the event we went out to eat and drank beer, and discussed my next event, Literary Death Match on October 26th.

A lot of people were talking about this at the book festival and I guess I’m playing the parts of David, Rocky and a snowball in hell. Just over a week to prepare. Should be a good time…Hope to see some of you there!!

Literary Death Match!!

October 13, 2010

On October 26th I will be taking part in Literary Death Match at Clubhouse Jager in Minneapolis, MN!! Eye of the Tiger, baby…it’s going to be tough, they told me I’m going up against Dessa Darling, an accomplished hip-hop lyricist. Do I stand a chance? Who knows, but it sure looks like fun! A little bit about Literary Death Match…

The Literary Death Match features a mix of four writers who perform their most electric work (for seven minutes or less) before a huge audience, and a panel of three all-star judges who take turns spouting affectionate, off-the-wall commentary about each story (meanness is never a factor, as judges are there for non-sequiturs and comedy, not serious critique). Two writers are selected as finalists and advance to the finals where we trade in the show’s literary sensibility for an absurdly comical climax to decide the winner.

If you’re going to be in the Cities on October 26th, here are the details.

With eleven LDM100 cities already slated, we went the two-is-better-than-one route for our final addition, with LDM100: Twin Cities, a return to one of our most LDM-loved urban lit-centers.

The certainly wild night will feature a brilliant cast of judges, with haiku artiste (and LDM Twin Cities, Ep. 1 champion) Brian Beatty, journalist/brainiac Molly Priesmeyer, and do-it-all funny man Joseph Scrimshaw.

They’ll pass jocular judgment on a foursome of readers that will include Doomtree poet Dessa Darling, scribe-of-all-trades Maggie Ryan Sandford, rockstar storyteller (no, really) Curt Lund and must-read wordsmith Mark McGinty (The Cigar Maker)!

Hosted by LDM creator Todd Zuniga.

Where: Clubhouse Jager, 923 Washington Ave N, Minneapolis
When: Doors open at 7 pm, show starts at 8:15 pm (sharp)
Cost: $6 pre-order, $10 at the door, $5 for students with valid student ID. (order at


Stop by, and witness literary history!!!


Top 10 Best Minnesota Twins Home Runs of 2010

October 10, 2010

Now that the season has ended we can look back and decide on the most memorable, the most impacting, the most important home runs of the Minnesota Twins’ 2010 season? No need to set this up, let’s jump right in….

10. April, 12th 2010 Jason Kubel homers off Scott Atchison

The first (official) home run in the Twins’ new stadium. Lots of bets were placed around this one. Who would hit it? Would it be a Twin or a visitor? A solo shot? A three-run dinger? A game-winning opposite-field, broken-bat, 2-out Granny? Denard Span hit the first one during an exhibition game vs. the Cards. That one didn’t count (unless you had money on the line). Kubel’s did and this home run made “Jason Kubel” the answer to at least one trivia question for the rest of his lifetime and yours.

Check out Jason Kubel’s home run right here.

9. Danny Valencia Hits a Gram Slam off Zack Grienke

This makes the list for several reasons. First, it was Valencia’s first home run. Second, it was off 2009 American League Cy Young winner Zack Grienke. Third, it put the game out of reach for the Royals in the first inning (the Twins would go on to win 19-1). Finally, it convinced a lot of Twins fans that we had found a new third baseman. Valencia went on a tear and was batting near .400 after 100 at-bats. We knew he’d settle down, and eventually he did but he still continues to take good cuts and Twins fans are looking forward to keeping him around a little while longer.

Watch Valencia’s grand slam.

8. Jim Thome’s 3-Run Shot vs. Oakland (During Slowey’s 7-inning no-hitter)

Significant, not so much for being a decisive blow to complete a 3-game sweep of the A’s, but for the game where it occurred. Kevin Slowey had just thrown 7 innings of no-hit baseball and with a 1-0 lead, he was (rightly) yanked by Twins manager Ron Gardenhire. If Gardy had known Thome would jack a line drive to the right field seats with a 3-0 count to give the Twins a 4-run lead, should he have let Slowey return to pitch the 8th? The great debate began.

Here’s Thome’s homer.

7. Joe Mauer’s Ninth Inning, 2-Out Game-Tying Homer vs. Philadelphia

“If the Twins end up winning this it will be just an awesome comeback.” Th announcer said something like that while the Twins fought their way back from a 9-4 deficit with a dramatic 5-run 9th inning. Lots of good things happened during that Twins’ 9th inning, including a 2-run shot by Jim Thome. But it was Mauer’s 2-out, down-to-the-last-at-bat, nearly Kirk Gibson-style home run that tied the game in glorious fashion and lead to what would clearly be an awesome comeback.

Crank up the volume on this and just listen to the crowd’s collective groan after Mauer connects.

6. Drew Butera’s 1st Career Homer in the 10th Inning of the Same Game

Great, not because it was Butera’s first career home run, or a solo shot that gave the Twins an extra-inning lead in a game we should have lost but went on to win. This was great because Drew’s father and former Twin Sal Butera was in the stands – and it was the first time Sal had seen his son play in the pros. Baseball, forever a game where parents watch their children play and Drew Butera gave Sal a great gift just one day shy of Father’s Day.

Watch it here.

5. Michael Cuddyer’s 2-Run Shot Off C.C. Sabathia in Game 1 of the ALDS

Why does this one make the list? Because for a short time, for probably just over an hour, Twins fans thought we might actually beat C.C. Sabathia and take the important first game of the playoffs. We know how it turned out but for a moment, we knew what it felt like to not be frustrated. To have the upper hand. To not be losing – to be winning!!

Here it is – the last happy moment of the Twins’ 2010 post season.

4. Jim Thome’s 574th Home Run to Pass Harmon Killebrew for 10th All Time

In a year that saw A-Rod hit his 600th* home run, Jim Thome’s drug-free movement into 10th all time got about 1/10th of the attention. But he didn’t care. This was a great home run, historic, and was the second homer in a game that saw Thome tie the Killer with #573 as well.

Here’s the story.

3. Joe Mauer’s 3-run shot vs. Chicago on September 15th

A home run that effectively demolished all hope for the White Sox and put the AL Central crown out of their reach and into the hands of the Twins. Minnesota did not win the division that night, but they took such a lead in the standings that the White Sox would need to donate an entire truckload of cigarettes and rum to Jobu to have even a glimmer of a chance. The division race was essentially over as soon as the ball landed in the seats.

Here it is

2. Jason Kubel’s Grand Slam Off Mariano Rivera

Epic, glorious, unheard of. Kubel’s grand-salami gave the Twins a lead they’d never relinquish and helped snap a 13-game losing streak vs. the Yankees. Kubel would later have a 2-homer game vs. the Yankees at Target Field the following week but neither of those could touch the sheer greatness and impossibility of Kubel’s 4-run bomb against the future first-ballot Hall of Famer. This was a home run that electrified Twins fans and stunned the Yankees. “Isn’t his save percentage like 1.000?” commented one Yankee after the game. Rivera hadn’t given up a grand slam in eight years, and had never given one up at home since becoming the Yankee’s closer. In fact, the last time Mariano gave up a grand slam, Jason Kubel had just turned 20. Joe Mauer was 19. Delmon Young? 16.

Witness the glory.

1. Jim Thome’s 10th Inning Game Winner vs the White Sox on August 17th

We knew it would happen sooner or later. It just had to. Nothing else to say about baseball’s best off-season signing of 2010. Absolutely magnificent.

See for yourself.

For added laughs, watch Hawk Harrelson’s version to hear some very colorful White Sockian commentary.

It was a fun year Twins fans! Good luck in 2011.

Mark McGinty is the author of “The Cigar Maker” and “Elvis and the Blue Moon Conspiracy”

Let’s Play Ball (a novel)

October 8, 2010

Linda Gould

iUniverse, 2010

248 pages, Fiction

2 1/2 out of 5 stars


A world of political and international intrigue set against the backdrop of Major League Baseball. Kidnappings, secret missions to Cuba, backroom deals between heads of governments, and the World Series. Sounds like a great recipe for a vivid, high-stakes political thriller. When a Cuban-born professional baseball player is kidnapped and shows up on Cuban television, an international crisis begins and Miranda, an American government bureaucrat is stuck in the middle.

In Let’s Play Ball, author Linda Gould has created a fictional world layered upon our existing system. We have Major League Baseball, but instead of the New York Yankees, we have the New York Broadways. Instead of the Washington Nationals, it’s the Filibusters.  Castro is mentioned, having lost power after 45 years, which would place the story in the year 2004, but the line between reality and fiction in warped.

In this world, Cuba is a communist country with a dictator named Ramirez, and the U.S. has a Bush-like president who laments tyranny while threatening shock and awe against the tiny, relatively defenseless island. But these world leaders are motivated by jealousy and hurt feelings instead of global and economic politics.

In this world we have a MLB owner who vows to rescue the Cuban people, opposing players who drink champagne in the winning team’s locker room and then accuse the world champs of cheating (providing no evidence whatsoever). There is a professional sports league filled with racism and petty squabbles – okay that’s not much of a stretch.

I struggled with a lot of the choices the author made in designing her fictional based-on-real world. One wonders if the author knows there is no Cuban Embassy on U.S. soil? And if she does, it makes sense to put one in the book to avoid explaining why. After all, this is not a book about Cuban-American politics. The idea of going to war with Cuba – real war, a shock and awe military engagement is ludicrous even in 2004. Calling Cubans terrorists is a bit of a stretch. The frequent reference to spicy Cuban food made this Cuban (yes, this reviewer is ½ Cuban) wonder if the author has ever had Cuban cuisine (Cuban food is not spicy!) or was simply confusing Cuban food with Mexican food (yes, there is a big difference!).

She refers to small ball as “little ball” but we don’t know if this is accidental, or part of her alternate reality. And what is Oprah Winfrey doing in the middle of all this??

Perhaps the biggest problem is that the author gives us no character to root for – no one we can identify with. The protagonist, Miranda, cheats on her husband and we’re supposed to like her. She’s emotional, sobbing and wanting to be loved – but pregnant by another man. Her husband is cheating on her too – and the woman he’s cheating with? She’s cheating! Miranda is a dishonest person who routinely spies on her husband by reading his email, and gets aroused at the sight of her sister’s husband. It’s impossible to cheer for a character like that.

The author creates such a tenuous web of gossip, unfaithfulness, conspiracy, politics and baseball that you need Glenn Beck to draw it all out on a chalkboard. So many conspiracy theories are tossed around that it’s hard to remember what is really going on.  The flaw is that we’re never in the middle of the action – we are constantly relying on second-hand rumor and speculation from dishonest characters – we never actually see any of these deals go down.

It becomes a book about pregnancy, fidelity and trust, with more hormones than intrigue. A bitter tone, with constant bickering centering around the fate of a self-proclaimed “horny bastard” who hates Spics. What begin as a Clancy story becomes more like Days of Our Lives. What starts out as a high-stakes political thriller becomes nothing more than two sisters passing rumors and gossip.

The biggest flaw is that the book does not feel finished. It ends decisively, but it feels like a second draft. Not polished.  It needs a fact check, and a chance to flush out the most interesting parts of the story: the kidnappings, the conspiracy, the secret mission…we need to see these things! We’re told later, after the fact. Through rumor and speculation. A classic mistake of telling vs. showing.

Imagine a movie where Luke Skywalker tells Yoda about everything that happened on the Death Star. Wouldn’t it be more exciting to actually see those events unfold? To experience them for yourself? That’s what’s lacking.

I struggled with the score 2 ½ stars feels generous – but Gould has fine command of the language. She writes well but in this case, failed to tell a compelling story.

Let’s Play Ball is available from Amazon.

Reviewed by Mark McGinty, October 2010.